While there aren’t any camellias that bloom non-stop from fall through spring, I know of an easy way to have a mix of blooms as early as September and ending in April (and maybe even May).
It’s simple – make sure to plant a combination of tried-and-true sasanqua and japonica varieties.
First, I have a confession. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t always been a huge fan of camellias.
But the older I get, and the more life throws curve balls my way, I appreciate more and more any flowering shrub that demand so little of me.
One of the first things I did when moving to my garden a few years ago was to think about which evergreen shrubs I wanted to plant.
Often called the ‘bones of the garden’ the shrubs I selected needed to be carefully chosen and thoughtfully placed.
Camellias were at the top of my list, as they’re not only evergreen, but they provide much-needed color when little else is happening in the garden.
They’re fairly low-maintenance, too. When placed in the right location, they won’t need pruning (hooray!)
Once established, they’re not overly thirsty (another hooray!)
All they ask is to be given a little fertilizer once they’ve finished blooming.
I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll forget and skip a year, but WHEN I remember to feed them, I like to use Dr. Earth’s Organic Acid-Lover Food. It’s great for rhododendrons and azaleas, too.
I have both types of camellias in my garden: the sasanquas and the japonicas. What’s the difference?
Sasanqua varieties bloom first, usually in the fall. The shrub has an open and airy growth habit and the flowers & leaves tend to be more delicate than the japonicas. Sasanquas can also handle more sun than the japonicas.
The japonicas, on the other hand, are those camellias that grew in our grandmother’s garden – the biggies. They’re larger all the way around; larger in size with larger leaves and larger flowers.
These camellias are happiest with more shade and are ideal when you want a large winter-blooming evergreen shrub.
Both varieties, however, need a few hours of sun in order to bloom.
When someone tells me their camellias never bloom, the answer is almost always because it’s planted in too much shade.
The camellias in my garden are taking center stage right now, as they have been for the past several months.
When it’s cold and bleak outside I’m so thankful for these bright spots of color!
Here are some of my favorites that have done really well in my clients’ gardens, as well as my own:
Camellia japonica varieties:
Camellia j. ‘Lady Vansittart’
As I’ve mentioned before, my new garden consisted of very little besides a million overgrown dieties (Fortnight Lillies) and 20+ established oak trees.
But, besides that I was lucky enough to inherit this beautiful hedge of ‘Lady Vansittart’ camellias.
I normally wouldn’t choose such an in-your-face color scheme but I’ve grown to love it!
I especially love the privacy it provides as it wraps around my little porch. I can peek over the hedge to look at my garden, or (shhhh!) easily duck and hide if I’m in danger of being spotted in my pajamas!
Aren’t these blooms amazing? Each one is different – some are solid red, some solid pink, some with a little variegation, and some with a lot.
Since ‘Lady Vansittart’ blooms in February and March, colorful flowers don’t really clash with other plants in my garden that bloom a little later on. Which is especially important as I tend to favor orange colors!
And this variety is SO bountiful, I can’t help but love them!
This hedge has been blooming non-stop now for 8 weeks and it still has tons of buds that have yet to open.
Camellia j. ‘Debutante’
The large, full blooms of ‘Debutante’ always remind me of a peony – especially its tight, unfurling buds.
This is a larger variety, growing to 8-feet tall and wide, and blooms in early winter.
I took this photo a few years ago – aren’t the buds and blooms incredible?
They look just like the roses featured on the David Austin catalog!
Camellia j. ‘Scentsation’
Another must-have is ‘Scentsation‘ as it’s one of the very few that have a sweet fragrance.
I like to float flowers in a shallow bowl of water to perfume my home.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the earthy beet-like scent of other varieties, but sometimes it’s nice to have something sweet smelling in the garden. Especially in December and January.
Camellia j. ‘Pearl Maxwell’
Just LOOK at the symmetrical blooms of ‘Pearl Maxwell’!
While many (if not most) camellia blooms tend to have ruffled petals, ‘Pearl Maxwell’ is tidy, geometric, and oh-so-orderly.
The soft, shell-pink blooms begin making their appearance in early spring and are truly a sight to behold.
Camellia sasanqua varieties:
Camellia s. ‘Apple Blossom’
‘Apple Blossom’ is a fall blooming, starting as early as September.
Each oversized, creamy white flower is edged in the palest pink and looks like – you guessed it – an apple blossom.
To me, it has one of the earthiest beet-like scents of all and I just ADORE it.
Camellia s. ‘Setsugekka’
I probably include ‘Setsugekka’ in more of my designs than any other variety.
I always seem to have the perfect spot for it’s semi-double, crisp, white blooms.
This variety also starts blooming in September, signaling the beginning of fall.
Camellia s. ‘Yuletide’
I typically don’t use a lot of red in my garden, but ‘Yuletide’ is a welcome exception.
Each December it’s guaranteed to be smothered with cherry-red blooms – just in time for the holidays.
Camellia s. ‘Pink-a-Boo’
This one is new to me and is one of my new favorites!
A sport of ‘Yuletide’ (above) it has larger single-petal flowers in a cheery pink with a bright yellow center.
Starting in December, it bloomed straight through to February.
And last but not least – Camellia sinensis! The Tea Camellia!
A few years ago I had this unusual variety planted in a container, near my front door.
I loved it as the tiny white flowers, and delicate nature of the shrub were perfect in that tight spot. I’ve been on the lookout for this variety, but haven’t yet come across one.
Apparently its young leaves can be processed for a source of tea, hence its common name ‘tea plant’.
Click here for an interesting article about this variety.
As a side note:
If you live in Northern California and feel like going on a field trip, the camellias are blooming like mad at Sacramento’s Capitol Building!
I visited a few months ago and fell in love with the history behind the camellia (did you know the pioneers brought seeds to California in 1850? It’s true – click here to read more!)
The following are just a few of the magnificent, towering camellia shrubs (more like trees!) blooming at the capital.
I wish I could tell you what varieties they are, but unfortunately I couldn’t find their names listed anywhere.
I’d love to know this amazing tie-die variety (left!)
I know I’ve left out lots of amazing varieties, so tell me – what are some that you’d recommend?
Thankful for your well written informative and exuberant camellia post. I’m in Texas and may try in one of the large planters that did have small trees in the shade out front (Winter morning sun, amended rose mix soil). I had a camellia is CA. Here we are 2 hours further south than San Diego with temp extremes from 10-105 F during the year but some may be a possibility.
I hope you’re able to find just the right spot, Maggie, and if you find one that’s heat-tolerant (AND cold-tolerant, what a swing you have there!) please let me know! Thanks for stopping by…
Hi Rebecca! I love this post. My house has four camellias in the front yard – they were planted by the previous owners and seem to get a lot of sun. Most of the bushes have yellowed leaves and are scraggly – I suspect they all need a good pruning and feeding but I’m nervous about the pruning. Do you have any tips? I was considering planting a tree or shrub to give the camellias a bit more shade, what do you think?
Thank you so much for your great content, as a new gardener, I find your posts so helpful!
Hi Yael and welcome to gardening! 🙂
Camellias are best pruned right after they bloom, which is now. If you wait too long, you’ll cut off next year’s future blooms. It definitely sounds like yours need some food, as well and the time to do this is also right now, after they bloom. Try this – I’ve used it with fantastic results: https://www.amazon.com/Dr-Earth-703P-Rhododendron-Fertilizer/dp/B000VZRV38/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=camellia+food&qid=1588182823&s=lawn-garden&sr=1-1
Oh, and yes to planting a tree for a bit of shade! I’m not sure of the specifics of where you live, how much sun, the types of camellias you have, etc. but I’m always for trees and shade!! I live where it’s SUPER hot and all my plants appreciate a little shade, no matter if they’re full sun or not. Keep in mind, though, that camellias definitely need some sun to bloom – if they’re in full shade you’ll get only a few flowers.
I am supposed to be moving to Seattle from Maine this spring. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this happens without a lot of hitches.
Seeing these beautiful flowers has been an incredible boost. I have always loved Camillias but never lived in the right climate. Looking forward to some calmer times & lovely flowers.
What a HUGE move for you, Emily, welcome to the West Coast!!! With all that’s going on, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you as well. It’ll be such a change for you, but since you appreciate gardening I think you’re going to LOVE Seattle. Have you heard about the Bellevue Botanic Garden (one of my favorites!) https://harmonyinthegarden.com/bellevue/, or the Bloedel Reserve (I’ll be writing about that one soon), or Kubota Garden (https://harmonyinthegarden.com/kubota-garden-lessons-in-form-and-shape/) – I could go on and on. 🙂
I love my low growing Shishi gashira. It’s a beautiful sasanqua, a rose coral, that takes a lot of summer sun. It started blooming in November, and there are a few blooms in it still
Thanks so much for this, Pat, as I have the perfect spot for a lower-growing camellia! And the fact that it can take a little more sun couldn’t be more ideal!
Thank you for bringing some color to my day.. We are feeling a little isolated in very close to lock down in Seattle. I have the same reaction to Camellia when they all seem to be that dark pink but I have a beautiful white called “Perfection” that blooms a little later but so beautifully and fully.. Thank you for the Flower and Garden show tour. I couldn’t get down there and your pictures are wonderful. Joan Karkeck
You’re so welcome, Joan. I can only imagine how you’re all feeling -you’re in such a hotbed of activity right now. We’re all thinking about you! I love white camellias, but my only problem with them is the fungus that plagues mine once it rains. Maybe yours would be better since it blooms a little later and might avoid some of the rain!
Wish you had included the reticulatas – great shrubs/trees with big splashy blossoms. Same conditions, but literally foolproof. If you are looking for a little more “oomph” this is your plant. I have had mine for 25 years and they are the star in my garden in the early part of the year. Stay well, Nan
Hi Nan – I don’t have any experience with c. reticulatas (I don’t think I’ve ever visited your garden when yours has been in bloom – too bad for me!) but thanks for the heads up! I found this really interesting article if anyone’s interested (AND has room for these biggies! up to 50′ and they can live for 600 years!) Wow – adding ‘oomph’ to your garden, is right! https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/a-fresh-look-at-icamellia-reticulatai/
Wish you had included the Reticulates. They too bloom for a very long time and are really trees after about 10 – 15 years. They are much more spectacular that the others so have a different charm. Just as easy to grow and gorgeous blossoms. Nan
Such gorgeous flowers! My husband is a docent at the California State Capital and participated in this year’s Camellia Day. Thanks for the shout out to the volunteers, they spend many hours making up the corsages that are handed out to visitors and Capital staff all flowers come from the Capital gardens along with sharing their history. Thanks for your post Rebecca.
Hi Vivian – that’s so cool that he volunteered during Camellia Day! What a wonderful event and I wish I could’ve gone this year. Hope you’re hanging in there and enjoying your beautiful garden!
Hello! Could you please tell me the name of the white camellia in your top photo? It’s just lovely!
Hi Cheri – if you’re referring to the picture with the bee in the middle of it, my tag said ‘Victory White’, but I always wondered if it was mislabeled as it doesn’t look exactly like the ones on the internet. I hope that helps a bit.